First Presbyterian Church of Blackwood
21 E. Church Street
Blackwood, NJ 08012
Sermon Notes (Sunday, July 4, 2021)
Rev. Dr. Mouris A. Yousef, Pastor
“On the Road to Damascus!”
We continue this morning our summer sermon series in the book of Acts. Our journey today brings us face to face with one of the most wonderful and faithful followers of Jesus; a man who played an important role in spreading the message of Jesus. In our text today, we meet Saul of Tarsus, a man whose life was dramatically changed by encountering Jesus of Nazareth.
Before we dive in, I think a brief background about Saul of Tarsus would be helpful at this point. As you may know, this is not the first time we meet Saul of Tarsus. He is mentioned a couple times in Acts chapter 7 and Acts 8 prior to his major encounter with the Lord in Acts 9. So, who was Saul of Tarsus?
Who was Saul of Tarsus?
Saul was likely born between the years of 5 BC and 5 AD. The Book of Acts indicates that Saul was a Roman citizen by birth. He belonged to a devout Jewish family based in the city of Tarsus, one of the large centers of trade on the Mediterranean coast and well-known for its university. It was in Tarsus that young Saul studied under Rabbi Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the Jewish Law (Acts 22:3).
As a Pharisee, young Saul was a zealous follower of the Jewish faith, and he had it fixed in his mind that anyone who wasn’t for his Jewish beliefs was against them, including of course those who were claiming that Jesus was the Messiah. Saul was so fervent in his faith that he was willing to travel a week’s journey, all the way to Damascus, to arrest more Christians and make sure this dangerous fringe movement didn’t undermine the heritage of his ancestors.
The story of Saul of Tarsus is the story of God’s amazing grace. In Saul’s transformation, we find many layers of hope and promise for us today. So as we think about Saul’s encounter with Jesus of Nazareth on the road to Damascus, I am reminded today of two great and encouraging lessons:
First: No One is Outside of God’s Reach
No one is outside of God’s reach. No one is beyond the grace of God. Paul spent a good part of his life as a Pharisee. In Acts 9:1, Luke tells us that Saul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” This likely involved going to synagogues and encouraging the punishment of Jews who had accepted Jesus as the Messiah. In the case of Stephen, Saul held the crowd’s coats as they stoned Stephen to death. Luke even tells us in Acts 8:1 that Saul approved Stephen's death. Saul spearheaded lots of violence against the church.
Saul of Tarsus didn’t feel he was doing enough to stop the spread of Christianity, so he went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, over 200 miles away, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
Yet, on his way to Damascus one day, Saul had an experience that changed everything. He encountered the Lord Jesus Himself. Acts 9:3-5 state, “Now as he was going along and approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He asked, “Who are you, Lord?” The reply came, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”
This experience set Saul of Tarsus on an entirely new journey, new trajectory. He went from being someone who persecuted the church to someone willing to be persecuted for the church. Over the course of his ministry, Paul suffered and endured flogging, beating with rods, stoning, imprisonment, shipwrecks, hunger, cold, and sleeplessness. In the end, Paul would give his life for the gospel. The first reminder from Paul’s story is that no one is outside of God’s reach. No one is beyond God’s grace. Therefore, we should never give up on anyone. We should never give up on our nation.
Second: Our Achievements Don’t Define Us
Our achievements don’t and shouldn’t define us. Most of the people Jesus chose as disciples were simple blue-collar workers. They weren’t well known for their accomplishments and achievements. But then along comes this brilliant young man, Saul of Tarsus. Saul was an educated and disciplined Pharisee. He studies philosophy, religion, and was a great speaker. From a human perspective, he did so much for the faith of his ancestors.
But how did Paul feel about those achievements after finding Christ? What did he tell us? Listen to what Paul says in Philippians 3:4-9, “If someone else thinks they have reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless. But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God on the basis of faith.” In the light of Christ, Paul realized that all of his accomplishments paled in comparison to being reconciled to Christ.
Friends, God has so much in store for us. He did for Paul and He does for us. Paul became one of the greatest messengers of Christ because his life was transformed by the grace of God in Christ. So as we come to the Lord’s Table today, may we always remember that no one is outside of God’s reach; no one is beyond the grace of God. May we also remember that our achievements don’t define us because we are defined by God’s grace and love shown to us in the Person of Jesus Christ. In the Name of the Father, of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen!
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